It’s (exhibition) game day. The San Francisco 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday in the team’s third preseason matchup. It’s the “dress rehearsal” game for both teams, meaning fans will be treated to plenty of action from both team’s starters, to include quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Patrick Mahomes.
The Niners Nation mailbag makes its return just in time. As always, you’re welcome to drop questions in here for our next mailbag or tweet me @Rob_Lowder.
How’s the depth chart at linebacker shake out? Chris
The 49ers kept seven linebackers in 2018. With tight competition throughout the roster, it’s unclear if they’ll have that luxury again this season. Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and rookie Dre Greenlaw are essentially guaranteed a roster spot. Malcolm Smith, David Mayo and Elijah Lee seem like the favorites to round out the group, but Azeez Al-Shaair has made a strong push through the preseason so far.
Can the 49ers motivate WR Dante Pettis by dropping him down the depth chart? Marcelo
Second-year wideout Dante Pettis hasn't had the offseason many expected after a promising end to 2018. After a lackluster training camp, Pettis hasn’t caught a pass yet through two exhibition games. Rookie receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd have both made a bigger impact so far. Pettis may see a reduced role throughout the season if he can’t prove his worth within the offense.
Can C.J. Beathard still win the battle for the backup quarterback? Don
Absolutely. Third-year quarterback C.J. Beathard is still very much in the mix for the backup role behind Jimmy Garoppolo. Shanahan said earlier this week that he appreciated Beathard’s big-play ability, and a decision between him and Nick Mullens wouldn’t be made until the final roster cuts. The competition between the two has been fairly even through the first two preseason games.
Is the secondary the defense’s Achilles heel in 2019? Michael
The 49ers defense in 2018 was the first in NFL history only to generate only two interceptions throughout the season. That being said, the unit looks improved over its predecessor. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman is healthier, now two years removed from a torn Achilles. Ahkello Witherspoon looks confident and capable opposite Sherman. Safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Tarvarius Moore have both shown well throughout training camp and the preseason. The outlook is positive, especially with a reinforced pass rush, but the jury is certainly still out.
Does QB Jimmy Garoppolo start Week 1 regardless of how he performs for the rest of the preseason? Ryan
Yes. Jimmy Garoppolo will be the 49ers’ starting quarterback when the team travels to Tampa Bay to kick off the regular season. He could not complete a pass for the remainder of the preseason, and he’d still be on the field come September.
Strong safety is settled with Jaquski Tartt, but what about free safety? Holmgrown
Entering into training camp, the starter at free safety for the 49ers defense was very much a question mark. Now, not so much. Second-year defensive back Tarvarius Moore has given the 49ers’ confidence throughout camp and preseason. He’s the favorite in front of veteran Jimmie Ward, who’s making his return from a broken collarbone suffered during OTAs. The two will compete for the starting role at free safety, with bodes well for the 49ers.
Does DL Solomon Thomas finally break out in 2019? Ewokoniad
2019 might be Solomon Thomas’ year. The defensive lineman struggled last season while also dealing with the unspeakable heartache of his sister’s suicide. Thomas put together a solid training camp and has looked very good throughout the preseason. With reinforcements along the edge, Thomas has gotten plenty of snaps inside, and his comfort level shows on the field. The 49ers would love for Thomas to break out this year, with fellow defensive lineman Arik Armstead on the final year of his contract.
Will pass rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa be ready for Week 1? Elvin
Defensive lineman Dee Ford is nursing a knee affected by tendinitis. The 49ers medical staff is playing it safe with the team’s marquee addition this offseason. Ford is expected to begin practicing again next week and is on pace to play Week 1. Rookie, Nick Bosa’s status is less certain. General manager John Lynch said Bosa’s chances of playing Week 1 are 50/50 as he recovers from a high-ankle sprain. It’s likely the 49ers’ No. 2 pick misses the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and makes his return against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
Will QB Jimmy Garoppolo play in preseason Week 4? Jared
Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to play an entire half Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Pending a dramatic turn of events, the 49ers quarterback isn't likely to play in the team’s fourth preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers. That game will be reserved as the final proving ground for the backup completion between C.J Beathard and Nick Mullens. Even if Garoppolo doesn’t complete a single pass on Saturday, the 49ers still can't risk losing him just for the sake of additional preseason rust-off.
Does RB Jerick McKinnon still have a place on the team? Erick
Yes. Absolutely. A healthy Jerick McKinnon offers versatility to the 49ers backfield that Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida or Raheem Moster cannot replicate. McKinnon is a receiver that’s capable of playing running back, a skillset that Kyle Shanahan covets. The 49ers coach didn’t hesitate to admit the extent to which McKinnon’s injury impacted the 49ers playbook before the 2018 season. McKinnon is a candidate for the injured reserve to start the season, but that doesn’t mean the 49ers don’t consider him a valuable asset to the offense when he returns.
Who makes the cut at wide receiver? Max
Receivers Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd are essentially guaranteed a roster spot. Veteran Marquise Goodwin also has a very strong chance. Slot wideout Trent Taylor seemed like a lock as well before a broken foot suffered before the preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys sidelined him for four to six weeks. He's likely to miss a game or two to start the season. Despite the injury, we’ll consider Taylor for the 53. If the 49ers keep six receivers, that leaves one spot for Kendrick Bourne, Richie James or Jordan Matthews. If I had to pick one? I’d go with James for his special teams’ value.
What’s to become of RB Austin Walter? Chris
The practice squad seems like the most likely landing spot for running back Austin Walter. With fellow backs Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson sidelined for the majority of training camp, Walter was given a healthy amount of snaps and showed well throughout camp. His preseason has been decent, but he’s not in consideration for the final 53 behind Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and McKinnon.
Is there room for DL Kevin Givens on the 53-man roster? Ricky
Kevin Givens has authored a strong preseason. We’ll leave it to the great Brian Baldinger to break down his impressive performance against the Denver Broncos on Monday. Unfortunately, the undrafted free agent faces steep competition to make the roster. If the 49ers keep nine defensive linemen, as they did in 2018, that will leave four spots after you consider the five former first-round picks that are locked to make the roster. Givens will need to prove more promising that the likes of Ronald Blair, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street or Sheldon Day to land on the final 53.
Will the 49ers trade their entire quarterback room? KP
I could see a scenario for the 49ers trade Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens to the New England Patriots for a then 43-year old Tom Brady. John Lynch asked once. He’ll ask again.
What would you do if you were bitten by a Tarantula Hawk? Marcos
True story time: While living in El Paso, Texas, my friends and I threw a BBQ party at the pool within my apartment complex. A few of us were sitting around the grill when a distinct buzzing was heard above us. We all looked up simultaneously to see a massive tarantula hawk flying circles above us. If you don't know what a tarantula hawk is, google it now. In one word: horrifying.
Like the grown men we are, all three of us shrieked, shot up and moved away from the beast before springing into action. I swatted the hawk down with a towel while one of the other guys pinned it down with an unusually large knife, cutting the spawn of satan in half. That wasn't the end, though. Missing the back half of its body, the tarantula hawk proceeded to crawl toward us while it’s back half stung the air. You never forget something like that. Thanks, Marcos.
Oh, the question. tarantula hawk has the second-most painful sting of any insect. I’m sure I’d have plenty of choice words and some screams of excruciating pain if I’m ever on the receiving end. Until then, the score is 1-0.